Every October, the baseball world experiences a flurry of excitement during the playoffs, which are full of surprises no one is braced for. There’s a tension throughout every game, inning and pitch, since every little thing — however insignificant it may seem — will surely affect the outcome of the game.
This year’s World Series pits a perennial powerhouse team that exemplifies hitting against an unexpected team that — despite the doubts of many statisticians — threw together a magical combination of strategy and superior play by unforseen contributors to win the chance to compete this late in the postseason.
How manager Tony La Russa led St. Louis, which features first baseman Albert Pujols and outfielder Matt Holliday, and flew under the radar all the while is a feat in itself. And with outfielder Lance Berkman forgetting his age and up-and-coming third baseman David Freese hitting .425 in the postseason, the Cardinals’ offense is as potent as any other playoff team.
Well, any team that isn’t Texas.
It’s safe to say that no pitcher would be at ease when facing slugging right fielder Nelson Cruz, but no pitcher wants to face the six other hitters batting in front of Cruz either. A mind-boggling lineup of second baseman Ian Kinsler, shorstop Elvis Andrus, outfielder Josh Hamilton, designated hitter Michael Young, third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Mike Napoli have hit their way to the team’s second straight World Series appearance.
Texas’ alarming amount of offensive depth will no doubt play a role in this year’s Series outcome. Each hitter brings a quality just as dangerous as the hitter before him. Kinsler is the dual home run and stolen base threat, Young is the undisputed team leader and Andrus is the rising talent who could become the next National League batting champion — just to name a few.
One variable many fans overlook in the World Series equation, however, is management — and I believe that is where this year’s champion will truly shine.
On one side of the diamond, there’s La Russa — who, by all accounts, is one of the best managers the game has ever seen. Throughout the years, he has come as close to mastering the chess match of baseball games as any other manager. Yet, as much as La Russa brings to the game in the form of thinking through plays and lineups, he does little during the game itself as far as connecting with his players — a vital role of the manager, especially when a kind word or crucial guidance from the team leader could make or break extra-inning games, which tends to happen in the postseason. Where managers such as the Tampa Bay Rays’ Joe Maddon have made a career out of forming relationships with each and every one of his athletes, La Russa, by contrast, stares stone-faced onto the field, never getting too excited or discouraged.
Texas’ Ron Washington means even more to his team. Leaning over the dugout for all nine innings, Washington might be the most animated Ranger. Washington and veterans like Young provide positive energy for the talented hitters to feed off of.
As it has throughout October thus far, the element of unpredictability will weave itself into the World Series. Thus, as nothing can be totally planned out, the Texas Rangers’ slugging and spirit will prevail over the strategizing St. Louis Cardinals in five games.
McAndrew is a member of the class of 2015.